Atlantis completes final flight

The London Evening Standard [UK]

Space shuttle Atlantis has returned home from its 32nd and final voyage.

It is the first of three shuttles that are ending their flying careers and eventually heading to museums.

“The legacy of Atlantis, now in the history books,” Mission Control announced at touchdown.

About 1,200 guests lined the Kennedy Space Centre runway to watch the shuttle glide through a clear morning sky to a flawless landing at the end of a 12-day journey.

Nasa employees wore white ribbons with the name “Atlantis” and the shuttle’s picture embossed in gold. Even the lead flight directors came in from Houston for the occasion.

“That was pretty sweet,” Mission Control radioed after Atlantis came to a stop on the runway. “That was a suiting end to an incredible mission.”

Only two shuttle flights remain – by Discovery and Endeavour – before the entire fleet is retired. Barring a reprieve from the White House, Atlantis will stand by as a rescue ship for the very last shuttle flight, then take off for a museum somewhere.

The shuttle came back “really, really clean,” with just a couple of dings in its thermal shielding, said Nasa officials who were out on the runway with Atlantis’ beaming crew and shuttle workers.

“It’s just a beautiful machine to see out on the runway, and we got to see it up close and personal again,” observed launch director Mike Leinbach. “I’m going to hate to see that go away.”

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